Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Poet: The Deaf Pit Bull Strangers Rescued

Last weekend Ray and I spent 10 minutes introducing a 12-month-old, 55lb, deaf bull terrier/dogo mix to a Muni-meter on First Avenue. We were the best show in town.

This is Poet, and the 100+ blessed supporters, Samaritans, and donors who sent letters, food, cleaning help, and money in the wake of Stella's sudden passing should formally make his acquaintance. You truly are the ones who took him from a cage to a home.

I doubt there will be a time when thinking of that list of names, nearly half strangers, won't put a lump in my throat. Think of that scene in The Lion King right after Mufasa has been trampled to death by wildebeest and his baby son is pushing himself under the lifeless king's paws, begging his father to hold him, to please wake up, but he can't, because he's dead. That lump you got going on now? It's that kinda lump, but on steroids.

Anyway, back to the boy:

Poet just turned one. He's interchangeably nicknamed "Chip Bull," in honor of his ink drop markings, and "T-Rex," because his head is ENORMOUS. (And full of teeth.) He, like Stella, was born deaf as a result of irresponsible breeding.

Poet was originally purchased at 8 weeks old from a breeder who clipped his ears for the "tough guy" look. His new owner took him home, named him Ares the God of War ( already got the clipped pit bull, brother. You don't need to saddle it with verbal proof of those insecurities about your manbits), then sent him away for a two-week training program at a facility for police dogs. The trainer there discovered "Ares" was deaf, alerted the owner, and ultimately Ares stopped training. Three months later Ares' owner surrendered him to a New Jersey rescue, citing financial duress as a result of a messy divorce.

The rescue was happy to take Ares, but placing him was exceptionally hard. No one wants a disabled bully, so Ares' spent the next 7 months in a kennel. Most of his time was spent alone, depriving him of the vital socialization puppies need to learn to behave around dogs and people. The rescue, without experience raising deaf dogs, did their best, but the Ares we ultimately met was anxious, terrified, and frustrated out of his gourd trying to communicate. With more than half his life first year spent in a kennel, he was as institutionalized as a Shawshank parolee.

It was Ray's idea to name him Poet--a sweet, silly name for a sweet, silly dog born wearing emo eyeliner, and a nod to the friends and readers of this blog, without whom caring for Stella and rescuing Poet would have been impossible.

Which brings us to urban Muni-meters.

As a result of his isolation, the outside world can scare Poet into barking like a junkyard dog or hiding between my legs while fear-peeing. So far his list of fears include, but are not limited to:

- strangers
- strangers carrying bags
- strangers in puffy coats
- strangers with pouffy hair
- flocks of drunk NYU students
- people who gesture extravagantly on the sidewalk
- bikes in motion
- bikes in park
- bikes on the sidewalk
- bikes
- skateboards in motion
- skateboards
- strangers on skateboards
- hats- shopping carts
- flags
- banners
- flashing lights
- scrolling light signs (like the ones in every bodega window)
- shadows on the ceiling
- sunlight on the ceiling
- the fucking ceiling
- screen savers
- end credits on the TV
- Hulu on the iPad
- hands that raise or reach quickly (he cowers as if we'll hit him)
- the electrical cord on the flat-iron, but not the blowdryer
- the vacuum
- Mom and Dad practicing Krav Maga in the house
- yappy dogs
- blurs of motion
- some parked cars
- inanimate bags of garbage
- bags of garbage and rats
- ATMs

Having wiped that one Muni-meter with beef and successfully coerced Poet into eating a small pile of jerky hidden under it, thereby establishing the limited threat posed by a box of government money welded to a pole, we seem to be on the way to peace between deaf canines and local pay structures.

We had no idea that Poet would have so many fears. He was billed as a bright and beamish boy who loved tug-of-war, other dogs, and children, and needed "a little socialization." In reality, he is whip smart, beamish, wildly playful, and deeply insecure. He and Stella are polar opposites. She was gorgeous, feminine and fawnlike, with an addiction to garbage and a soulful, healing energy. She lived for laps and naps, got along with everything, only barked as a trick, and feared only basements. Poet, by comparison, is a bull. Handsome, muscled, drooly, and goonish, he skids and lumbers through the apartment, knocking over anything we are stupid enough to set down. When he yawns he "deaf whistles," which means we're basically living with a nazgul with anal glands. 

Poet deeply resents Apple, Steve Jobs, and all electronic devices which steal your attention, and has invented "The Pelican" as a defensive maneuver: go to water bowl, fill massive mouth, walk to Mom who is trying to write, and empty contents of mouth into feet or lap, receive attention. Ray thought I was making it up. Then in happened to him.

We have worried, I think as all "second child parents" do, that we made a mistake. That a deaf dog with serious fear issues is too great a challenge, that we'll fail him, that we'll disappoint everyone and weaken the argument to adopt special needs animals. Or become those people everyone glares at, walking around with their dog alternately barking like a Resident Evil zombie-Doberman and pissing with fear near the Citibikes while the folks in Starbucks point and mouth "Ugh, why don't they TRAIN their dog...".

But we are bonded. For the first time in his life, Poet is connected to two people and has a lap to sit in at home for 6-12 hours each and every day, depending. Last week he crawled out of his crate at night, quietly joined his sleeping adoptive parents in their bed, curled up between them, and has been there every night since, grinning, alligator rolling in the sheets with delight, knocking over both lamps with his tail while trying to stalk, attack, and then eat a sleep mask.

I can't hear a word you're saying. 

Thanksgiving Day Turkey massacre.


Dad? Dad  I--zzzzzzzz.....

Dogfather Michael!!


Um...okay, also 9ers.

I know we have to try. The rescue, woefully unprepared to work with deafies, offered to take him back. His chances of being adopted a second time are low. We will continue to work with his trainer, and try--and then thank you all for giving us the chance to try and help a Poet. 


  1. No one else matters but you & Ray-Ray. Let the jackasses worry about the Citibikes.
    Poet is INCREDIBLY lucky to have you all. Most dogs in his position would meet far worse fates.
    And how adorable is he to be constantly on guard for your safety and the safety of his pack? Only a lot.
    Beautiful. Keep the updates coming.

  2. So, it's new, and its different, but dogs have a tremendous capacity to adapt. Once things settle a bit, and Poet figures out what's-what, you'll be surprised, I bet. And much love to you for being crushingly awesome.